The Customer Service Survey

It's Your Duty to Complain

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-06-08 14:35

I talk a lot in this blog about how companies need to listen to their customers, collect fair and accurate feedback, and take action to improve. But do customers have a responsibility, too?

In a thought-provoking and well-reasoned article, Cory Doctorow argues that customers have a duty to complain, because that's how companies will know what's wrong and how to fix it.

Most people don't want to complain. Complaining is confrontational. Complaining risks being labeled a "complainer," like those crazy people everyone who works in retail or customer service know so well. And there are, unfortunately, a lot of companies where complaints tend to get lost in the machinery.

So rather than complain, many customers quietly take their business elsewhere, or suffer in silence if switching isn't an option.

As uncomfortable as it may be, complaining before taking your business elsewhere is almost always a better option for both the customer and the company. Complaining gives the company a chance to fix the problem, giving the customer better service and saving the company a customer. This is practically the definition of win-win.

In many cases companies will be grateful to get thoughtful and meaningful customer complaints. To make an effective complaint you should:

  1. Be calm. Remember that the person you are complaining to is another human being and is probably not personally responsible for your problem. Nobody likes dealing with angry customers.
  2. Be reasonable. You should ask the company to fix the problem and deliver the product or service you paid for, but a minor inconvenience does not usually entitle you to financial compensation (though many companies will do something to apologize). Don't make threats.
  3. Remember not everyone can fix your problem. Most people in any given company have only limited authority, and if your complaint is complex, the first person you complain to might not be able to help. If that's the case, ask to talk to someone who can help. If you're complaining about a general company policy, it may be a slow process (with lots of complaints from lots of customers) to make a change.
  4. Be prepared. Have the facts and your story straight. Be ready to explain in clear, concise terms exactly what happened, why you felt this was wrong, what impact it had on you, and what the company needs to do.

As a Customer Experience professional, I know that a rational and well-presented customer complaint is a valuable gift. The worst thing that can happen (from a CX perspective) is when a customer leaves without complaining and then tells friends (in person or through social media) about how terrible the experience was.

So while I wouldn't say that customers have a duty to complain, I do think everyone would be much better off if customers did it more often.

Issue #98 of Vocalabs' Newsletter

by Peter Leppik on Tue, 2016-05-31 13:57

We just published the 98th edition of Quality Times, our newsletter about customer experience and customer feedback.

This newsletter is one of the ways we get to know prospective clients. So if you find this useful and informative, please help us out by forwarding this to other people who might also enjoy it, and encourage them to subscribe. You can subscribe to this newsletter on our website.

This month's newsletter is all about the "why" of collecting customer feedback. My first article talks about the tradeoff between getting positive feedback and honest feedback, and making sure you know which you prefer. The second article is about that too-often overlooked piece of survey design, understanding the goals of the program.

As always, I hope you find this useful and informative.

Sweating the Big Stuff

by vocalabs on Thu, 2016-05-12 15:54

"Don't sweat the small stuff" as the old saying goes. Meaning: don't waste your time on things that are unimportant.

Unfortunately there's a lot of sweat-soaked small stuff in the world of customer feedback. Here are some things that often suck up a lot of time and effort relative to how important they are:

  • The exact wording of survey questions.
  • The graphic design and layout of reports and dashboards.
  • The precise details of how metrics are calculated (spending too much time on this is a warning sign that you might have fallen into the Metric-Centric Trap).
  • Deciding whether individual surveys should be thrown out (this is another warning sign of the Metric-Centric Trap).
  • Presenting survey trend data to senior leadership.

Instead, you should be focusing on some of these things that don't get nearly as much attention for the amount of benefit they bring:

  • Closing the loop with customers.
  • Providing immediate coaching of employees based on customer feedback.
  • Regularly updating the survey to keep it relevant to the business.
  • Doing root cause analysis of common customer problems.
  • Keeping senior leadership actively engaged in advancing a customer-centric culture.

The difference between the small stuff and the big stuff is that the small stuff tends to be (relatively) easy and feels important. The big stuff often requires sustained effort and commitment but pays off in the end. It's the difference between an exercise bicycle and a real bike: both take work, but only one will get you anywhere.

Vocalabs' Newsletter #97 is Published

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-04-29 10:25

We just published the latest edition of Quality Times, Vocalabs' newsletter about measuring customer service quality.

This month's newsletter features our hot-off-the-presses whitepaper, The Metric-Centric Trap, which I wrote in collaboration with Raj Sivasubramanian of eBay. I also write about the use of incentive-based pay in the customer experience world (spoiler: I'm not convinced it's a good idea).

This newsletter is one of the ways we get to know prospective clients. So if you find this useful and informative, please help us out by forwarding this to other people who might also enjoy it, and encourage them to subscribe. You can subscribe to this newsletter on our website to automatically get each new edition when it is published.

As always, I hope you find this useful and informative.

The Metric-Centric Trap

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-04-27 10:34

In my work I've found a lot of companies that genuinely want to improve their customer experience and invest a certain amount of time and resources into the effort. Often they go to great lengths to track and measure the voice of the customer, yet the customer experience never seems to improve much.

The problem is that these companies are investing their time and energy in relatively low-value activities like tracking survey metrics, and ignoring things that can move the needle like closed-loop feedback and actively training employees with the voice of the customer. It's an easy trap to fall into, since senor leadership teams often like to see numbers and metrics, but it can make it hard to really understand and improve the customer experience because the statistics obscure all the individual customers' stories.

I've had the great pleasure of collaborating with Raj Sivasubramanian, the Senior Manager of Global Customer Insights at eBay, to develop these ideas into a new whitepaper, The Metric-Centric Trap: Avoiding the Metric-Centric Trap on the Journey Towards Becoming Customer-Centric.

In this whitepaper we explore our experiences with companies that have wanted to be customer-centric but wound up metric-centric instead, discuss what's so bad about being metric-centric, and share some ways to break out of the trap and make more effective use of customer feedback.

You can download the whitepaper from our website.

Bruce Temkin on Qualitative Data

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-04-15 15:11

Bruce Temkin posted a short video recently making the case that we need more qualitative research in the customer experience world.

The problem is that boiling down customer feedback to statistical metrics obscures the fact that there are thousands of individual customers behind those numbers. Each customer has their own story and their own experience, and it's important to not lose those individual experiences in the analysis.

The way to not lose sight of customers is through qualitative data that captures their stories. That doesn't mean not calculating metrics. It means making sure you are including that qualitative feedback as part of the process and then using it.

Too often when companies collect qualitative feedback they either don't use it at all, or they try to boil down the customers' stories into statistics using analytics tools.

What needs to happen instead is someone needs to read or listen to individual customers' feedback to develop understanding for customers' emotions and experiences.

Statistics have their place of course. But statistics don't readily lead to empathy and understanding.

Do You Want Positive Feedback or Honest Feedback?

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-04-08 17:16

Which would you rather have: Positive customer feedback, or honest customer feedback?

Most people would probably say "both," but it's not always possible to have both. If the honest customer feedback isn't positive, then you can only get one or the other.

So when forced to choose, I would generally prefer honest feedback over positive feedback. As long as the person giving me feedback isn't being cruel or demeaning, I would rather hear about ways I can improve than get my ego stroked. At least that's what I say, and what the rational part of my mind thinks. In reality, hearing negative feedback can be hard, even though it's also much more valuable.

I think most business leaders would probably agree with me: it's better to get honest feedback from customers than positive feedback.

But the real-world incentives at most companies don't support this. Incentives based on customer feedback are always designed to encourage positive feedback, not honest feedback. That's because it's easy to measure how positive the customer feedback is, but almost impossible to measure how honest it is.

Where companies base bonuses and compensation on customer surveys, this leads to a perverse incentive to get customers to give higher scores no matter the customer's actual opinion. Is it any wonder that survey manipulation is so common?

The problem is that when customers don't give you the straight story, the feedback has no value. You might as well not do the survey at all if you can't get honest feedback.

So what's the solution?

The first step has to be to stop undermining yourself. If you give employees incentives to only deliver positive feedback, stop that.

That probably means you shouldn't be using survey scores for employee bonuses at all, since it's difficult-to-impossible to create an incentive system that encourages honest feedback.

The next steps are much harder. The goal is to create a culture where customer feedback is seen as constructive criticism and an opportunity to improve. That will require significant effort coaching employees in how to listen to customers without becoming defensive or negative.

But if your customer surveys are biased towards giving you positive, rather than honest, feedback, then you're not getting any value anyway.

Join the CXPA

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-04-06 14:50

I don't often plug other organizations in this blog, but I'm going to make an exception for the Customer Experience Professional's Association (CXPA). We have an amazing local chapter here in Minneapolis that holds meetings every other month, and the CXPA's annual conference is coming up in early May in Atlanta.

What makes CXPA different from other groups and events in this space is that CXPA is a non-profit professional association run by and for CX practitioners. That means that it stays focused on helping CX leaders connect with each other to share ideas and best practices. Since Customer Experience is much more an art than a science, finding out what's worked for others in the field can have tremendous value.

Any time someone asks me the best way to learn more about Customer Experience, I always tell them to join the CXPA and become active in their local and online communities. And now I'm telling you.

Vocalabs Newsletter: NCSS Results for Communications

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-03-30 16:55

We just published issue #96 of Vocalabs' Newsletter, Quality Times. This month we focus on our recent NCSS results for the Communications industry, showing that T-Mobile has continued its improvements since 2012, while Comcast still brings up the rear. The compete Executive Summary is available for download.

As usual, I hope you find our newsletter interesting and enjoyable. If you like it, please feel free to subscribe via email. Subscribers are the first to get new issues when they are published.

Incentives

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-03-18 16:31

A few weeks ago the Harvard Business Review published an article with the provocative title, Stop Paying Executives for Performance. The main thesis was, as you might expect, that companies should stop paying executives for performance. The authors give a number of reasons:

  • Performance-based pay only really improves performance for routine tasks, not activities which require creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
  • The best performance tends to come when creative professionals focus on improving their skills rather than focusing on outcomes.
  • Intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation, and performance-based pay tends to only drive extrinsic motivation.
  • Performance-based pay encourages people to cheat to hit bonus thresholds.
  • No performance measurement is perfect.

You can argue about whether the authors' conclusion is right (and in the comment section of the article several people argue that they are wrong), but there's no question they make a strong case for an interesting and counterintuitive idea.

To me as a Customer Experience professional, what's most interesting about this is that the same arguments can be made about performance-based pay for many customer-facing employees, since delivering a great customer experience often requires employees to go beyond the rote skills and find creative solutions to the customers' problems.

A great example of this is the declining use of Average Handle Time (AHT) in many call centers. Over the past ten years I've spoken with a lot of call center managers who have stopped evaluating (and compensating) their customer service reps based on how long they spend on the average call. Every single one has described significant improvements in the customer experience. Several also said that their AHT didn't even go up as a result.

Removing AHT from the employee's compensation meant that reps were freed from having to worry about the mechanical part of their job--how quickly they could get someone off the phone--and instead think about the best ways to solve the customer's problem. The other problems with performance-based pay also show up in customer service, since focusing on AHT can lead employees to cheat (for example, by occasionally "accidentally" hanging up on a customer at the beginning of a call). AHT turns out to not be as tightly tied to operational cost as most managers expect, because customers will often call multiple times if they don't get the service they need the first time.

Moving away from performance-based pay would be an enormous cultural change in today's business environment where the implicit assumption is that money is the best, or even only, way to motivate employees. But there's decades of research in behavioral economics showing that money is only a mediocre way to drive performance in many circumstances.

If you're using performance-based pay to try to improve your customer experience, it's worth thinking about whether you're really driving the behavior you want.

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